LEE, John Lee (1802-1874), of Orleigh Court, nr. Bideford, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 11 Dec. 1802, o.s. of William Hanning of Dillington House, nr. Ilminster, Som. and Harriett, da. of Edward Lee of Pinhoe, Devon. educ. Westminster 1813; Christ Church, Oxf. 1821. m. (1) 18 Feb. 1834, Jessy (d. 1 Mar. 1836), da. of John Edwards Vaughan*, 1s.; (2) 17 Aug. 1841, Hon. Mary Sophia Hood, da. of Samuel Hood†, 2nd Bar. Bridport [I], 2s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.) suc. uncle Maj. Edward Lee to Orleigh 1823 and took name of Lee by royal lic. 21 Mar. 1825; fa. 1834. d. 16 Aug. 1874.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Som. 1845-6.


John Lee Hanning inherited his maternal uncle’s property on coming of age in 1823 and took the name of Lee two years later in accordance with his instructions.1 His early Tory proclivities were shown by his nomination of Sir Thomas Lethbridge* at the Somerset election of 1826.2 His father, William Hanning, was a key figure in the ‘church and king’ party which seized control of Wells corporation in 1828, and Lee stood there at the general election in 1830 in alliance with John Edwards Vaughan; their joint address was noteworthy only for the absence of any expressions of political principle. To his detractors, Lee was a ‘mumbudget automaton’, devoid of talent and incapable of impromptu public speaking, but corporation influence ensured that he and Edwards Vaughan were comfortably returned.3

The Wellington ministry listed him as one of their ‘friends’, though they knew nothing of him. His name appeared both in the majority and minority lists on the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830, but he informed The Times that he had voted against government, and he privately expressed the hope that Lord Grey’s new ministry would prove to be ‘more popular than the last’.4 In presenting a Wells petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 15 Dec. 1830, he observed that the house and window duties were especially onerous and that the ‘poor and middle classes’ were entitled to relief. He presented petitions from Ilminster and Hindon for parliamentary reform, 28 Feb., and after serving on an election committee was granted a week’s leave for urgent private business, 14 Mar. He voted for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the Somerset county meeting in March he expressed his ‘decided approbation’ of the measure.5 He stood again for Wells at the ensuing general election, issuing a separate address from Edwards Vaughan’s in which he trusted that his ‘assiduity and constant attendance in Parliament’ and ‘independent’ conduct would commend him to his constituents. He condemned Gascoyne’s amendment, believing that ‘a side blow was an unfair way of upsetting a measure fraught with such advantage as ... amending the abuses of the rotten borough system’. However, he wished to see the reform bill amended in detail, particularly as to the £10 householder franchise, which reflected his sense of obligation to defend ‘all vested interests’ affecting the electors of Wells. Expressing general confidence in ministers, who had made ‘progress in economy and retrenchment and ... the reduction of useless expenditure’, he was finally spared a contested election.6

He presented petitions from Wells for repeal of the Beer Act, 14 July, and Ilminster for a small debts recovery bill, 17 Aug. He briefly advocated the extension of free trade principles to Ireland, 25 July, and voted in defence of the Irish administration’s conduct during the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and generally supported its details in committee, notifying The Times that he had voted against the use of the 1831 census for the purpose of scheduling boroughs, 19 July, a matter of some significance for Wells.7 He advocated increased representation for Cambridgeshire, 12 Aug. However, he voted for the Chandos amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. After dividing for the third reading, 19 Sept., he moved an amendment to clause 22, to secure the voting rights of sons of freeholders currently under-age who would have qualified under the old system, which was accepted by ministers. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but supported it in committee and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar 1832. He divided for Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and presented an Ilminster petition to withhold supplies until the reform bill was passed, 30 May. He divided with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minorities for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan., and against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832. Following this last vote, he wrote that ‘I am glad to say ministers had a majority ... although I voted against them’, which he had done for the sake of consistency, having no intention of supporting any further attempt to ‘annoy them’ on this issue.8

Although Lee’s support for reform had alienated many of the corporators at Wells, local reformers were also critical of him for being ‘inattentive and neglectful of his duties’. It was claimed that he had missed the second reading division in December 1831 in order to attend a ball and had absented himself from several other important divisions in favour of ‘sporting occasions’. He tried to excuse his absences to a meeting of reformers in June 1832, but ‘also stated that he did not approve of going into the House as a pledged representative’.9 He was opposed by two staunch reformers at the general election in December 1832, but was narrowly returned in second place.10 He sat as an advocate of ‘moderate Whig principles’ until his retirement in 1837.11 He belatedly joined Brooks’s on 29 Nov. that year. He died in August 1874 and was succeeded by his son from his first marriage, Vaughan Hanning Vaughan Lee (1836-82), Conservative Member for West Somerset, 1874-82.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Bristol Mirror, 20 Dec. 1823. The will was proved under £30,000, 17 July 1819 (PROB 11/1618/335; IR26/791/570).
  • 2. Taunton Courier, 21 June 1826.
  • 3. Bristol Mirror. 10 July; Keene’s Bath Jnl. 19, 26 July, 9 Aug. 1830.
  • 4. The Times, 20 Nov. 1830; Wells City RO 189/8, Lee to Davies, 19 Nov. 1830.
  • 5. Bristol Mirror, 2 Apr. 1831.
  • 6. Ibid. 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 7. The Times, 21 July 1831.
  • 8. Wells City RO 189/8, Lee to Davies, 13 July 1832.
  • 9. Keene’s Bath Jnl. 30 Jan., 2 Apr., 25 June 1832.
  • 10. Bristol Mirror, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 11. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 133.